The Granby Chamber of Commerce honored Matt Newton of CES Design as Business Person of the Year and Donald Rethke as Humanitarian of the Year at its annual meeting and awards dinner on Feb. 25.
The chamber recognized two New Businesses of the Year, Jimmy’s Tire and Auto and Windy Top Cottage. It also saluted retired Town Manager Bill Smith with a Lifetime Service Award.
Matt Newton started his sign and design business at his home in Granby in 2001 and has remained in town except for a three-year stint in Torrington. CES Design moved into its current location behind State Line Oil in 2016. Its diverse services range from signage, theming, designs, logos, vehicle wraps and custom fabricated items for businesses. Car detailing and restaurant renovation are among his many talents.
His signs at Foxwoods Casino were recognized in Signs of the Times magazine and other work was featured in Sign Builders magazine. A self-taught artist, Newton is a native of Simsbury and attended Tunxis Community College. His four adult children all graduated from Granby Memorial High School. Newton has donated his time to complete projects for the Town of Granby, including a Board of Education theme wall, and has been an active Chamber of Commerce member.
Donald Rethke, known affectionately as “Dr. Flush” for his contributions to NASA’s space toilets during the Apollo program, was recognized for his work with the award-winning GMHS Robotics team. Started in 2009, the Granby Grunts have competed throughout New England and beyond. In 2015 they finished in the top one percent of the world at the International Competition in St. Louis. Rethke donates his time and expertise in leading this innovative program, which requires fundraising for the team’s travel. He also established the Robotics team at Enfield’s Fermi High School and has spoken to more than 300,000 children at schools and museums. A Navy veteran and graduate of Wisconsin University, Rethke spent 37 years at Hamilton Standard. In addition to his “zero gravity” commode, he developed spacesuit backpacks for the 12 astronauts who visited the moon and worked on the lunar excursion module, Skylab and the space shuttle among other projects.
Windy Top Cottage, a North Granby bed and breakfast owned by Ken and Dawn Kuhl, has attracted many new visitors to Granby since it opened in 2018. The old stone building on Silkey Road was constructed in 1932 and has been lovingly renovated with an English country home feel. The cottage is available for rent on Airbnb. Ken, an active member of the Salmon Brook Historical Society, also manages other Airbnb properties in Granby including a house at Valkyrie Farm and the Loft at Lost Acres Vineyards. He has been a real estate agent in town and is a great promoter of Granby as a visitor destination.
Jimmy’s Tire and Auto, which opened in January 2019 on Salmon Brook Street, is Granby’s newest car repair shop. General Manager and head mechanic Jim Leitao has worked in the automotive industry since age 15, servicing all car makes and models with state-of-the-art equipment. Leitao has already been involved in several community fundraising events for Lost Acres Fire Department, Granby Ambulance Association and Autism Speaks among others. Last fall he organized a can drive for the Granby Food Bank and held two free car care classes for the general public.
In addition to its annual award winners, the Granby Chamber recognized longtime resident Bill Smith for his 39 years of service as Granby’s Town Manager. Smith came to Granby in 1978 when it was a small rural farm town. Thanks to his leadership, Granby has morphed into a prosperous suburban community often called the pride of the Farmington Valley. From the Town Hall complex to town planning to social and senior services, Smith was the guiding hand until his retirement in 2017. At his retirement party, the Town of Granby renamed the drives into Granby’s Municipal Complex as William F. Smith, Jr. Way. Smith has been involved with several organizations, serving as President of the Council of Small Towns, where he spearheaded lobbying efforts for educational funding and open space. He was instrumental in Holcomb Farm returning to Granby after it was willed to the University of Connecticut, and its subsequent renovation. He remains the longest serving town manager with a single town in the State of Connecticut.
In addition to announcing the awards, the chamber elected and announced the 2020 officers and board members at the annual meeting.